Being a 12th-grade student during the COVID-19 pandemic is stressful. For that matter, it’s stressful no matter what grade you’re in.

Whether you’re going to school in person, online or in a blended format, we’re all facing challenges. This “new normal” isn’t going away any time soon, and we need to accept that.

Here’s my perspective: For the past two years, I’ve attended an online public school, Maine Connections Academy. Before that I was at a traditional brick-and-mortar school, so I’ve seen both sides. With so many students taking classes online now, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned, as well as give some advice to those just starting out.

First, I think that, more than we realize, some students actually enjoy being able to do school from the comfort of their own homes, without the social pressures that a traditional school brings. That’s why I originally transferred to an online school: certain social issues were hindering my ability to focus and strive, no matter how hard I kept trying.

Second, despite the above, there is no question that depression and stress levels are rising for most students. As chair of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council, I’ve seen firsthand how detrimental these changes are to mental health. Between COVID and families’ economic problems, transitioning to an online school setting is adding to an already massive ball of stress.

That said, here is my advice to you, my fellow students:

• Set a routine for yourself. A routine is the easiest way to dedicate specific times for when you wake up, work, do things for you and go to bed. This includes taking time for you, to do things that aren’t on a screen. Every single day, take a walk or read a book or do something new! Giving your eyes and brain a rest is key.

• On the other hand, don’t hesitate to take advantage of social media to find other peers to talk to. Being physically distanced doesn’t mean you have to be socially isolated. Start some conversations and communicate with other people going through the same thing.

• Get up. Get out of bed, out of your chair, off the couch, etc. Get your body moving. Physical activity is extremely important, even if it’s as simple as standing up and stretching for five minutes. Your body will thank you.

Across the country, millions of students are feeling stressed out. Millions of students are exhausted. However, as hard as it is to get out of bed, complete your schoolwork and get through the day, know that in every meaning of the phrase, you are not alone.

We all miss seeing our friends. We all miss hanging out with others. We all want to overcome the obstacle that is COVID-19. Accept the feelings you have and know that they are completely valid. Whatever you may be feeling – anxious, frustrated, sad – you have nothing to be ashamed of and your feelings matter.

COVID is making a mess out of all of our lives right now, but we can still feel good about ourselves. This pandemic is one piece of our lives that we will all remember forever, but we are so much more than this pandemic. We are so much more than a person sitting in front of a screen. Even in tough times, that person has the capacity to feel good, and they should.

I want you to take a deep breath and remember to talk to someone if things get to be a little too much. A friend, a counselor, a teacher, a parent, whoever makes you feel safe. Because you matter.

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